When hotel rooms were sold out in San Francisco during the famous International Panama-Pacific Exposition (1915), rooms were available at the Montara Inn, built on the hillside overlooking the artist’s colony.
Or–are the guests actually posing outside the publisher Harr Wagner’s Montara home?
Reads: “The best located tract in the Montara-Farallone District. Every lot in tract is within three blocks of the Montara or Farallone Depots, with a perfect view of the Ocean and Montara Mountains. Surrounded on all sides by well developed property. Main sewers already laid. Sidewalks, water mains and street grading free of cost to purchaser. Splendid location for Home or Investment. Sold on reasonable terms.”
Reef & Wagner
Phone Douglas 4291 324 Phelan Building, SAN FRANCISCO
At the foot of Montara Mountain, an artistâs colony, the dream of San Francisco publisher Harr Wagner and his poet wife Madge Morris, seemed to be unfolding in the most beautiful way.
A few quaint cottages were built and artists moved in with their musical instruments, pens and watercolors. The nearby streets were named in honor of authors Bret Harte, Elbert Hubbard and Rudyard Kipling. A bakery opened its doors and many in Montara viewed the new community as economically self-sustaining.
Harr constructed a family residence featuring stone pillars and a circular driveway. To establish a sense of tradition at Montara-by-the-Sea, he organized annual barbecues, attended by his artist friends.
Mussels were harvested from the nearby beaches and placed in steaming kettles while steaks sizzled on the open grills. Harr presided over the festivities, always the jovial host attired in chefâs hat and white apron.
Perhaps in anticipation of the flood of tourists attracted to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, Harr helped construct a lovely resort hotel framed by the warmth of Montara Mountain.
But Harrâs reputation for taking risks that generally failed was not about to change. The artist community at Montara was no exception.
The Ocean Shore Railroadâthe artery that carried life to Montara and other Coastside beach townsâfiled for bankruptcy and pulled up its rails. A fire swept away the resort hotel and a future conflagration would take the Wagnerâs family residence, leaving only the stone pillars.
The Wagner family, which included daughter Morris, weathered the latest financial setback in typical fashion. Harr shrugged his shoulders and humorously labeled himself a âsuccessful failureâ?.
But despite Montaraâs economic reverses, the tiny beach town still retained its identity and lure for artists. Real estate sales may have tumbled but the âVon Suppe Poet and Peasant Cottageâ?, honoring a 19th century European composer, was still in demand at a rental fee of $85.00 weekly.
Meanwhile, daughter Morris was thriving. She had been named the postmistress of Montara, and with an initial investment of $350.00 , began raising those milk goats with good friend Irmagarde Richards.
Within a few years, Morris and Irmagardeâs work won acclaim as observers praised them for âcontrolling the goat industry in this part of the worldâ?.
Their goats were not what Irmagarde labeled the âback alleyâ? sort. She and Morris aimed much higher, raising gold medal winning, blue-blooded Toggenberg goats, the breed that were used in experimental gland transplantation in the elderly.
According to Irmagarde, their goats were attractive and highly efficient milk producers. A steady stream of physicians had made the trek to Montara for goat glands but the women were not interested in that phase of the business.
Their goats provided sweet milk onlyâno parts.
In 1922 goat milk was a valuable commodity because it wasnât produced in large quantities by commercial dairies. This situation enabled Morris and Irmagarde to sign a contract with a tuberculosis hospital in San Mateo to provide 60 quarts of goatâs milk per day. The milk from their herd of 200 goats was earmarked for children with TB who were unable to digest other foods.
Tuberculosis, which most commonly affects the respiratory system, is usually acquired from contact with an infected person, an infected cow, or through drinking contaminated milk.
âToday, after nine years of hard work and fun,â? Irmagarde Ricahrds said in 1922, âwe have one of the best-equipped milk goat establishments in the world.â?
But there years later, in 1925, the world of âthe goat girlsâ? was turned upside down. After a long illness, Morrisâs mother died at Montaraâand technology introduced new baby food formulas into the marketplace.
The demand for goatâs milk dwindled and the Las Cabritas (Little Goats) Farm at Montara quietly ceased production and closed its doors.
Note: I actually met Morris Wagner. She was elderly and lived in a very nice senior home in Los Gatos but what impressed me most was her face, filled with light and warmth and great love, her fatherâs daughter, I felt certain.
Photos: Quaint house in Montara & Montara landscape with Montara Inn perched on the hillside.
(Photo: Scenic Montara, with Devil’s Slide in the background).
Montara was the first in a string of charming beach towns encountered by Ocean Shore Railroad passengers as they left behind the breathtaking vistas of the spectacular ride across Devilâs Slide, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean and the striking patterns of the fragile cliffs.
From the quaint Montara train station, fields stretched in all directions, with footpaths leading to a graceful 19th century lighthouse, a church with a small spire and virgin beaches thick with white sand.
The visual effect made some visitors imagine they stood on the stern of a ship far out in a foggy seaâbut the gracious dominance of Montara Mountain in the background, hosting sprays of brilliant wildflowers, reminded everyone they remained on land.
Montara was the home of Vic Guerrero, heir to an original Spanish/Mexican land grant. In Guerreroâs less complicated Montara, the most famous resident was William Haavind, âBilly the Kid,â? a colorful foot racer known for his daily sprint up to Devilâs Slide and back.
This, then, was Montara in the early part of the 20th century, the place Morris Wagner came to know and love.
Anyone acquainted with Morris soon learned that her father, Harr, had purchased one square mile of beautiful Montara, believing the property would rise in value along with the fortunes of the Ocean Shore Railroad.
He may have originally hoped to sell small lots to all comers but he quickly refined his plan, announcing that Montara would become the center of an artistsâ community with a college as its beating heart.
The arts and crafts community made sense to all who knew Harr and Madge. They had countless artist friends including the famous, long-haired bohemian poet, Joaquin Miller. To assist Harr in promoting Montara, Miller rode the Ocean Shore Railroad to the Coastside town where he planted a special redwood tree to the delight of spectatorsâincluding the press.
While Morrisâs mother penned books of poetry, her father named the streets of Montara in honor of the authors Bret Harte, Elbert Hubbard and Rudyard Kipling. A few tidy cottages were built and artists moved in with their musical instruments, pens and watercolors.
A bakery was opened and many began to view the community of Montara as economically self-sustaining.
(Photo: Montara artist & his dog outside their Montara cottage.)
While many Coastsiders were involved in the business of illicit alcohol during prohibition, Miss Morris Wagner pursued a more temperate activity.She raised milk goats at âLas Cabritasâ?, (little goats), her ranch in Montara.
(Photo: Morris Wagner & Irmagarde Richards with their goats at Montara).
Cases of childhood tuberculosis were on the riseâand goatâs milk was prescribed as a safe alternative to cowâs milk, which purportedly carried the germs of the contagious respiratory disease.
Combining the promise of monetary reward with a noble mission, Morris Wagner set out to provide the nourishing goatâs milk needed by the sick kids in San Mateo County where herds of grazing cows were still a common sight on the rolling green hillsides.
To outsiders unfamiliar with Morris Wagnerâs background, raising goats might have seemed an unusual career choice for the athletic young woman.
Her father, Harr Wagner, a prominent educator and literary publisher, had risked his savings in real estate misadventures in California and rubber tree plantations in Mexico that failed miserably. Only the literary magazines he published paid the bills.
Morrisâs mother, Madge, was a frustrated poet who fervently supported womenâs suffrage and did not take her husbandâs name upon their marriage in the 1880s.
Friends might have predicted a safe teaching career for Morris Wagner but she exhibited the rare qualities of both parents. While her milk goat business was not too secure financially, there were intangible rewards, the good feelings one gets from doing humanitarian work.
If Morris was puzzled by something about farm animals, she could draw on her fatherâs deep well of knowledge. He had grown up around barns and stables in Pennsylvania.
Whatever deficiencies Morris had in the field of animal husbandry, she solved by pooling talents with Irmagarde Richards, a close friend who also happened to be a goat expert.
Surely Irmagarde Richards was the inspiration if not the guiding spirit at âLas Cabritasâ?. In the 1920s, Irmagarde became the president of the California Goat Breeders Associationâand she had authored a well-received book about modern milk goats. She was a Stanford grad who had taught Greek and archaeology at the prestigious Mills College in Oakland, the first womenâs college established west of the Rockies.
It was in the classrooms and on the grounds of historic Mills College that the student Morris Wagner struck up a lifetime friendship with teacher Irmagarde Richards.
At the time the two women met, Morris had lived in different parts of California but her most recent address was a post office box in Montara.
photo San Mateo County History Museum. Visit the museum located in the historic courthouse, Redwood City.